Anne Heche's car crash reveals our conflicting attitudes toward mental health and substance abuse

The actor with a history of mental health struggles allegedly caused a fiery crash, possibly while intoxicated

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published August 8, 2022 6:30PM (EDT)

Anne Heche attends the 74th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards at The Beverly Hilton on March 12, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images)
Anne Heche attends the 74th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards at The Beverly Hilton on March 12, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

Anne Heche is sadly in the news again, raising questions about society's attitudes about mental health.

The 53-year-old actor is in a coma after a car accident on Friday, in which she crashed her vehicle into a residence in Los Angeles. "At this time Anne is in extreme critical condition she has a significant pulmonary injury requiring mechanical ventilation and burns that require surgical intervention. She is in a coma and has not regained consciousness since shortly after the accident," a representative for the actor said in a statement, reports Variety.

According to reports, the Mini Cooper Heche was driving initially struck the garage of a home, and may have gone further inside the structure. The vehicle became engulfed in flames, as did the home. The Los Angeles Times and others report Heche has been hospitalized with serious burns. Deadline related the account of a veteran reporter who observed the crash via helicopter, and called it a "miracle" anyone escaped the car alive.

It was not the first emergency incident Heche has been involved in, and not her first crash that day. Allegedly, Heche had another minor car accident earlier on Friday, crashing into a wall in an apartment complex, but drove away from that crash. In 2002, Heche was hospitalized after police responded to calls about the actor who had shown up to a stranger's house, asked to take a shower, began speaking incoherently about spaceships and refused to leave.

As of Monday, Heche is under investigation for a misdemeanor DUI and hit and run, according to CNN. Friends of the woman whose residence was destroyed in the accident, say she barely escaped alive and have started a GoFundMe to help after the loss of her home. In contrast, an outpouring of support for Heche is notably lacking. To have a mental health crisis in America, especially when substance abuse is involved, is not an easy thing.

On Saturday, actor Alec Baldwin posted an Instagram video expressing support for Heche, whom he calls an "old pal," saying, "There's not a lot of women I've worked with that are brave in the way that Anne is brave." Many of the more than 800 comments on the video are negative, in disbelief that Baldwin would support Heche, who caused the crash, possibly while under the influence of alcohol. "You're disgusting . . . Are you proud of her because she almost killed people??????" one comment reads

"My heart goes out to you. I'm sorry you had this tragic thing happen to you," Baldwin says in the video, notably using passive voice to describe the crash, as if it was not the result of Heche's actions. According to Baldwin, he has been sober since the mid-1980s. The actor has long been public about a past drug overdose and battling alcoholism.

Heche has also been public about turning to drugs and alcohol to escape trauma of the sexual abuse she says she suffered as a young child, abuse perpetuated by her father, who died in 1983. Heche's family also dealt with homelessness. In 2001, she told ABC News about one of her coping mechanisms: "I had a fantasy world that I escaped to. I called my other personality Celestia. I believed I was from that world. I believed I was from another planet. I think I was insane."

But Heche's mental health crisis in 2002 was largely treated as a joke. As the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2004, "Four years ago, you could have called Anne Heche crazy. Why not? That's what the tabloids took to calling her, and it's what she called herself." Heche's 2001 memoir was titled "Call Me Crazy," seemingly seeking to reclaim the label ascribed to her by everyone from late night comedians to a play called "Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monologues"

Jokes that went unremarked upon in the early 2000s are less likely to be accepted now. But the understanding for struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, and how that often goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues, remains complicated. 

Along with Baldwin, actor Rosanna Arquette also tweeted support for Heche, describing the accident as "really tragic" and writing that people should pray for Heche. After commenters criticized Arquette, bringing up their own experiences with drunk drivers or the fact that Heche could have done even more harm, Arquette tweeted, with an apology, "I will always have compassion for anyone who is suffering a mental health crisis like anne [sic] Heche driving under the influence and clearly not ok by putting others [sic] lives in danger is so tragic."

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Investigators of Friday's crash are awaiting the results of a blood draw they received a warrant to conduct. That morning, hours before the crash, an episode of Heche's podcast "Better Together" was posted in which Heche said she had been drinking vodka "with wine chasers" before recording. On the podcast, Heche allegedly talked about using alcohol to deal with a "very bad day." Despite the episode being released the day of the accident, a producer of the podcast says it was recorded earlier

The episode has since been taken down. The accident, meanwhile, is still under investigation.  

We've come a long way when it comes to talking about mental health, at least knowing not to make cruel jokes about it. The journey toward considering and having empathy for all victims of substance abuse, however, is one we're still taking. 

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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Alcoholic Alcoholism Anne Heche Commentary Drinking Mental Health Substance Abuse